Murray's bullshit and bureaucratic manoeuvring

Stop the War Coalition voted to maintain the ban on Hands Off the People of Iran. Peter Manson reports

Once again the Stop the War Coalition has insisted on campaigning against a possible imperialist attack against Iran with one hand tied behind its back. By rejecting, for a second time, affiliation from Hands Off the People of Iran, it signalled that outright opposition to the Tehran regime is not to be tolerated or countenanced.

In his concluding speech to the April 25 STWC annual conference, steering committee member and Socialist Workers Party dissident Chris Nineham declared that if imperialism launched any kind of attack on Iran - either directly or through its proxy, Israel - this would be met with a “wave of occupations”. We will “bring the country to a halt”, he promised. Let us hope such fine sentiments can be translated into reality.

However, you can be sure that any such attack would be preceded by a stepping up of the propaganda war, painting the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (if he is still president) as blacker than black. Anything would be preferable to allowing such an evil regime - a regime that represses its own citizens and supports suicide bombers around the world - to get its hands on nuclear weapons, wouldn’t it?

If we are serious about trying to mobilise a mass movement against any such attack - and in particular against the likely British complicity with it - we will have to consider how to counter the propaganda offensive that accompanies it. Should we just condemn the hyperbole and point to  imperialism’s devastating hypocrisy and murderous brutality? Should we argue that an attack would be unjustified because the Tehran regime is not that reactionary, or even that it is a little bit progressive?

Nothing could be more calculated to lessen the reach of the anti-war movement. The mass of workers are not stupid. They know that the clerical theocracy is anti-women, anti-worker, anti-gay and prepared to commit all sorts of atrocities in the name of god. The warmongers will say that those who oppose their aggressive plans can be dismissed as apologists whose protestations are worthless.

No, the full potential of the movement cannot be mobilised in the way comrade Nineham suggests with such a method. By denying the undeniable we hand the imperialists a propaganda victory on a plate. Imperialism is our main enemy, but regimes like that in Tehran are just as categorically opposed to working class power and human emancipation. They too must be defeated.

That is why Hopi’s message - no to imperialism, no to the theocratic regime – has such leverage. Thankfully it is in tune with large sections of progressive opinion, which is why such a wide range of individuals and organisations have signed up - John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Dick Gaughan, Peter Tatchell, Attila the Stockbroker, Bill Bailey, Labour Representation Committee, Aslef, PCS, Green Party, Permanent Revolution, etc, etc.

But for the STWC leadership Hopi is poison. It cannot be permitted to affiliate. Despite the excellent speech of Ben Lewis on behalf of the CPGB calling for the Stop the War membership to overturn its previous rejection (see below), a speaker from the Tehran-apologist Campaign Iran was wheeled out to hold the fort.

According to Naz Massoumi - who, if he is not an SWP member, is very close to it - “what we won’t do is campaign against the regime from outside the country”. His own family had suffered repression and was in exile, so he did not need any lessons in opposing Tehran. “If you want to overturn the regime, go to Iran. It’s very easy to shout from the outside.” That only “adds to the negative propaganda” and reinforces the notion of “regime change from outside”. In any case, didn’t Hopi realise that the “biggest threat is war”?

Massoumi said that there was only one STWC position - against war - and it was very important “not to mix it up with other campaigns”. This led him to conclude that “Hopi is opposed to the very basis of the Stop the War Coalition”.

It is difficult to know where to begin to answer this nonsense. Firstly, Massoumi argued as if STWC was being asked to affiliate to Hopi, not the other way round. Others, many others, who are affiliated to STWC explicitly call for the overthrow of the Tehran regime. That would not only apply to the CPGB but the SWP and the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, to name just three affiliates.

Secondly, wasn’t Massoumi himself adding to the “negative propaganda” merely by mentioning the repression and exile suffered by his own family? Surely he should lie about it or at least keep quiet? And I must say promising to drop your public opposition if you are forced into exile can only be a gift to any repressive regime!

Thirdly, can he explain what kind of internationalism it is that obliges us not to campaign against anti-working class repression “from outside the country”? Whatever happened to workers’ solidarity?

Fourthly, is it really true that the STWC campaigns only and exclusively against war? Doesn’t it call for free Palestine, for example? And what is this about not mixing up the anti-war message with “other campaigns”? Take the SWP’s own (unanimously agreed) motion to the conference. It noted that “the global economic and financial crisis represents a very important change in the political environment in which the STWC operates. This will mean working with trade unions and other coalitions whose focus is on resisting the effects of the economic crisis and on fighting for social justice and highlighting the connections between the distorted priorities at work in the war on terrorism and those revealed by the banking crisis with slogans such as ‘Jobs, not bombs’ and ‘Welfare, not warfare’.”

What was that about not mixing up your campaigns? It is true that we can criticise the SWP motion for its economism. Workers must be won to oppose imperialist war not because it is too costly and the money can be better spent elsewhere, but because the aims and interests of imperialism are directly counterposed to those of our class. What if it could be shown that workers in Britain might gain from imperialist plunder? And doesn’t the manufacture of “bombs” actually mean “jobs”?

Nevertheless, the SWP is correct to stress the connection between, on the one side, capitalism’s crises and its drive to war and, on the other, between workers’ everyday struggles and their objective interest in opposing all imperialist wars. For communists it is correct to “mix up” the anti-war message with “other campaigns” - all our struggles are in reality interconnected.

If, on the other hand, we were to take Massoumi’s assertions at face value, it would be difficult to identify a single affiliate that would not be deemed “opposed to the very basis of the Stop the War Coalition”. None of them are purely and simply anti-war. All of them are involved in “other campaigns” - from trade unions resisting job cuts to socialists organising against capitalism.

Like all the others, Hopi is against an imperialist attack on Iran - nobody even attempts to deny that any more. So why is it illegitimate to combine that with opposition to the theocracy (while combining it with support for the theocracy is perfectly acceptable)? It is nonsense to say that Hopi is opposed to the basis of the STWC - Hopi does not, for example, refuse to engage in joint work with organisations opposed to war who are soft on Tehran. Stop the War is a coalition and Hopi should be part of it. At the same time we would welcome a genuine debate on the best way to oppose war - through suspending opposition to a reactionary regime on the grounds that ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ or through consistently stating the truth in all its complexity.

Murray’s regret

Following Massoumi’s speech STWC chair Andrew Murray gave the official reasons why Hopi could not be admitted right now. He explained that, as the CPGB had refused to remit its pro-Hopi motion, “with regret” the steering committee was obliged to recommend rejection. Remitting the motion would have allowed the correspondence between Hopi and the coalition to continue - with the implication that the differences between the two organisations might be resolved.

Comrade Murray, a member of the Morning Star’s CPB, says he is still bothered by comments made by Hopi national secretary Mark Fischer two years ago. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. In fact here we have a classic case of small-minded bureaucratic manoeuvring to achieve opportunist ends. Murray simply does not want Hopi to affiliate, presumably because this would send the wrong message to the reactionary allies of the SWP and CPB.

This paper reported comrade Fischer’s comments at an aggregate of CPGB members in January 2007, when he said: “An important goal is to establish a viable alternative political centre to the rotten politics of the Stop the War Coalition and Campaign Iran” (Weekly Worker January 18 2007). The call for an alternative political centre is misrepresented by comrade Murray as an intention by the CPGB to establish a rival organisational centre, whereas in reality we are opposed to irresponsible and small-scale splits in the movement. Our aim is to make a political challenge, which is why we regard Hopi as so significant. This is clearly demonstrated by the very next sentence from the report of comrade Fischer’s speech: “Obviously the main purpose is to oppose any attack on Iran by imperialism, but also, and crucially, to support working class resistance to the theocracy” (ibid).

If Murray has an argument (he doesn’t), it ought to be with the CPGB. But the CPGB is an established STWC affiliate and thankfully no-one is proposing to expel us. I suppose, however, that we should be grateful for small mercies. At the October 27 2007 STWC conference another reason - even more absurd - for rejecting the affiliation of Hopi was given by Steve Bell, STWC treasurer: it is “absolutely clear that Hopi is a front organisation for the Weekly Worker, set up in opposition to the coalition”.

The only evidence for this was a further Fischer quote from the same Weekly Worker report: “Hopi is a step towards the task of putting organisational muscle on the CPGB body politic.” Not much to go on, is it? In fact the breadth of support that Hopi has continued to gather makes the ‘CPGB front’ line impossible to maintain - which is why neither comrade Murray nor anybody else tried to do so last Saturday.

So all we are left with is that Mark Fischer, now Hopi national secretary, has put forward the view that the current STWC leadership and Campaign Iran have “rotten politics” in that to a greater or lesser degree they act as apologists for Tehran. As I say, let us let us debate this difference openly - is it more effective to cover up, or keep silent on, the nature of the repressive regime or to tell it as it is?

When the CPGB motion calling for Hopi to be allowed to affiliate was put to the vote, there was a clear majority in favour of rejection. Around 30 people voted for the motion, with possibly three times as many against. The vote came at the very end of the conference, by which time numbers had dwindled considerably from the 250 attending at the height of the day (I would estimate that between a third and a half were SWP members). However, a good proportion of those paying their £10 conference fee were classified as observers and therefore unable to vote - the steering committee had ruled that only those who had paid their annual subscription by January were to be considered ‘delegates’ with voting rights.

Keep it broad

The SWP method - totally in concert with that of the CPB - is to suppress its own politics within an alliance in order not to alienate partners to its right. If Stop the War is to enjoy mass support, it must remain broad.

The problem with this method is that just about every policy that goes beyond a platitude will alienate someone. Take the current war being waged by the Sri Lankan government against the entire Tamil population. An emergency motion condemning this looked set to be voted through by a huge majority, but a delegate indicated he wished to oppose it.

This delegate was a Sri Lankan who broadly supported his government’s policy - the Tamil Tigers were responsible for numerous atrocities, he said, and had to be defeated. Now there was a clear risk that a vote would produce a rift among the anti-war audience. The solution? Do not put it to the vote. Comrade Murray called for the motion to be remitted to the steering committee and a majority raised their hands in favour. He did not bother to follow the normal procedure of asking the movers to remit their motion, as he had done in the case of the CPGB. (What if they had refused?)

There was a different problem with a motion on Iraq from the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), moved by Carlos Rule in the name of Finsbury Park STWC. In particular the sentence that read: “We align ourselves with, and call for the victory of, the Iraqi resistance.”

An SWP comrade from Tower Hamlets opposed the motion. As is usual with such conferences, the only time there is any actual exchange of views is when somebody wants to oppose a motion - in which case a cameo ‘debate’ is allowed, with three minutes allocated to each side. To allow longer would be to eat into the extended time put aside for the 19 platform speeches.

Anyway, the reason the speaker opposed the CPGB (ML) motion was not, of course, because the SWP disagreed with it. As a “revolutionary socialist” she was for ‘victory to the resistance’: “The issue is about people who don’t support the resistance”, and we must “vote to keep our movement broad and engaging”.

Once again comrade Murray explained the steering committee’s opposition from the chair: we have to phrase things “in a broad way”. If the mass movement in Britain and the US forced out the troops, that would indeed produce a “victory of the resistance” - but don’t let the mass movement know.

We in the CPGB also opposed the motion - but for very different reasons from those given by Murray. Which “resistance” are we talking about? The resistance of progressive, secular and working class forces organised through a mass movement? Or the resistance of Islamist suicide bombers? We are unapologetically for the defeat of imperialism, not least British imperialism. But that does not mean we have to be positively for the victory of anti-working class forces. The one does not logically follow from the other.

However, we did support another motion from the CPGB (ML), this time proposed in its own name. This instructed the steering committee “to campaign vigorously among trade unions to encourage them to adopt a practical policy encouraging members to do everything not to support illegal wars or occupations …” This motion - despite the stress on “illegal wars” (what about those endorsed by the United Nations?) - was essentially sound: looking to organised workers to take matters into their own hands. What is more, the steering committee also backed it, after the Stalinite movers agreed to a minor change of wording - an advance of sorts.

The steering committee was also responsible for ensuring the deletion of an unacceptable phrase in a motion proposed by Coventry STWC: “British troops out of Afghanistan within 12 months” (my emphasis). The movers agreed to remove this demand when it was pointed out that Stop the War is for an end to the occupation now. Previously Elane Heffernan of the SWP had called for rejection of the motion because of this phrase.

However, the SWP-dominated steering committee recommended support for the South Tyneside motion on the general election. This resolved “to form an anti-war block with any candidates and organisations that wish to take a stand in their communities for an anti-war government …” And the policy of this “anti-war government”? Well, it would “stand for unity of the people of all nationalities and to defend the rights of all”.

Will the SWP remember this motion next year? I doubt it. After all, before the 2005 general election the STWC was unable to make even the vaguest recommendation for fear of upsetting union bureaucrats who wanted to vote for Tony Blair as the lesser evil. But it was entirely unprincipled to indicate support for South Tyneside STWC’s cross-class liberal pacifism. Genuine socialists stand for working class independence - both in peacetime elections and anti-imperialist wars of resistance.

Ben Lewis’s speech

Comrades and friends

I urge you to back the motion in support of Hands Off the People of Iran’s application to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition, and in so doing to reverse the decision made at the last conference in 2007. I think that back then there was a lot of confusion about Hopi’s principles and its message. We were accused of promoting a “confusing” message, being “divisive” and even “pro-imperialist”. Our record since then proves that we are none of these.

Hopi is quite clearly an integral part of the anti-war movement, combining implacable opposition to war and sanctions with unequivocal support for the people of Iran: the grassroots movements of workers, women, students and LGBT groups. Hopi rightfully belongs in the Stop the War Coalition, and should not be subject to membership questions and examinations - to my knowledge the only prospective affiliate such measures have applied to.

Hopi is not “completely hostile” to the coalition, as the steering committee claims. We share opposition to the US imperialist project in the Middle East, the war on terror or whatever Barack Obama will rename it. I agree with Tansy Hoskins [the previous speaker and STWC office worker] - imperialism cannot liberate women in the Middle East, as it claims. Liberation must come from below with support and solidarity from comrades internationally.

What we are “completely hostile” to is the notion that, in opposing the main enemy of imperialism, we must remain silent on the nature of the Iranian regime - whether on its brutal suppression of anti-war protests or its de facto alliances with US imperialism in countries like Iraq and particularly in Afghanistan. If we wish to create an international movement that can oppose and defeat the US project in the Middle East, then these questions are hardly peripheral or insignificant - they are absolutely central and must be addressed.

And, comrades, it is an utter diversion to disingenuously attempt to conflate the views and statements of leading CPGB members with those of Hopi as a whole. Hopi is a broad group of many different opinions and perspectives, all coming together in fighting unity for the Iranian people - John McDonnell and the Labour left, the Green Party, Aslef and PCS are not creatures of the CPGB, but just some of the many who have signed up to our principled message. These comrades are not “confused”, they are not “divided” and they are certainly not “pro-imperialist”.

If the comments of CPGB national organiser made at a CPGB aggregate are so unpalatable to the Stop the War Coalition steering committee, then why not take this up with the CPGB itself instead of using them to condemn Hopi? After all, the CPGB is an affiliate to the STWC, can send delegates to its conferences and also can move motions - which is why I am able to speak here today.

Although Andrew Murray and the steering committee claim to be merely upholding the democratic will of the last conference by refusing our affiliation, it should be remembered that at the October 2007 conference there was another group barred from affiliating for similar reasons - Communist Students. Yet, comrades, this year Communist Students has been able to affiliate without any problems at all, and also has two delegates in this conference today. What is going on here? It is inconsistent - even in its own terms.

I think what this motion also poses is what sort of anti-war movement we want. Do we want a vibrant, dynamic and genuine coalition of different views and perspectives, or do we want one where the leadership seek to exclude and marginalise views which they do not share?

At a time when imperialist intervention in the peripheral countries is doubtless going to increase, we need to be open, honest and serious about our politics and our political differences instead of resorting to bureaucratic games and quote-culling.